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12 games, 12 months, 1 story

By Ian Campbell on May 19, 2022

Tagged as: Developer case studyCreator spotlight


Hello, my name is Ian. From January 29th, 2021 to January 29th 2022 I gave myself a challenge:

12 games, 12 months, 1 story.

Over the course of this project I learned a lot not only about how Defold works but about how to effectively create a game for competitions. In this blog post I’m going to share some of my findings as well as review every project I made.

Every one of these games was submitted to at least one game jam. A game jam is a video game development competition where you are given a set amount of time plus a theme and have to make a project during that time.

This project was moderately successful, gaining 4,891 views, 2,833 plays, and 136 downloads. For a series of free games hosted on itch, with basically no additional marketing, I feel these are good numbers.

Here are a few of my personal favorites if you would like to try them out:

  1. Out of time (Top Down Shooter):
  2. Armor of God (RPG):
  3. Joining Forces (Puzzle Platformer):
  4. Drunk Thief Returns (Comedy Crime Thriller):

Here’s a link to the full playlist: https://itch.io/c/2063306/12-games-12-months-1-story

Full Breakdown

Out of Time

Concept: You are slowly dying and must kill enemies to regain health.

“Out of Time” was a strong start for the series, getting 54th out of 1,073 in the overall category for the jam I entered it into. It was briefly featured in the background of the ‘best of’ video by the jam creator. These results gave me a solid footing and confidence for the future.

Take away: Graphics aren’t everything in a jam, what matters is consistency.

  • Even though this project consisted of images shaking around with some particle fx, it still managed to get 279/1073 in the visuals category. I do think that if I had an artist I could have scored much higher.

Armor of God

Concept: Christian Themed Turn-Based-RPG

Sometimes inspiration can strike from unexpected places. Several years ago, I was in a Bible study and the Armor of God was mentioned (Ephesians 6:10-20). I instantly felt drawn to the concept as a game idea. To date this is still my favorite game on a narrative level.

Probably the craziest part of this game was that several months later I came across two other guys who made a game for a different jam also called “Armor of God” using the same free art kit and with a shockingly similar story structure. I’ve been in contact with the creators but unfortunately they use Unity :frowning: so I can’t collaborate with them directly for the time being.

People tended to enjoy this project too with it ranking 28/1,889 in terms of game design.

Take away: Experiment with uncommon game themes, it helps your game to stand out and be very memorable.

Death Percent

Concept: Speed runner platformer.

When I first released this game, I was semi-embarrassed by it. I made it in an afternoon after scrapping my original concept. It was also my first attempt at a platformer and is lacking in terms of features. It still blows my mind that this game managed to be 19th overall out of 1,018. It also placed 13th in fun, 13th in topic and 20th in terms of simplicity. Once again, visuals seriously held me back with that ranking 255. This was also my first game to get properly shouted out in a YouTube video.

I think part of the reason the game did so well was because the theme of the game was “Failure is progress”. Most people made games where you die and your body remains to aid you on the next playthrough. My twist was turning the character into a slow ghost to fly through walls. I think this was different enough that most people seriously enjoyed it because it is a unique twist on the common approach.

Take Away: Stray away from the common interpretations of a theme, a little creativity can go a long way in making a project stand out.

Rogue Royale

Concept: Randomly Generated Battle Royale.

If there’s a specific game I want to revisit and redo it would be this one. A randomly generated battle-royale should have been super fun with lots of replay value. Unfortunately a bug in my custom pathfinding that I couldn’t fix during development plus not enough random generation resulted in a lack-luster experience. The narrative was also basically non-existent with people confused how this fit into the overall story. The game is also very hard in terms of gameplay and fairly buggy too. However, not all was lost. The interact system as well as the weapons system ended up being a core building block for several of the future games I created.

Take away: Know your audience.

  • I made this game for a Rouge-Like jam and didn’t really satisfy any of the conditions, it left people not really liking the game and wanting more out of it. If I added in some more rouge-like elements I think the game not only would have performed better but could have been a lot more fun.

A Name is Earned

Concept: Stay super powerful as long as you can keep chaining together kills.

This was the ‘point of no return’ for me in terms of my goal of ‘12 games, 12 months, 1 story’. I had never fully linked the games together beyond some dialog and similar names / art. I needed to link it all together, so I decided to reveal a key piece of the story as a prize for winning the game.

I submitted this game to two jams, resulting in a unique experience in both.

Take away: Consistency in a color-pallet can make the game look very visually appealing.

  • Several great websites exist such as https://lospec.com/palette-list that can help you find a consistent color theme for a project.
  • Although simple, a consistent color pallet can make the game a lot more visually appealing.

Last Man Standing

Concept: You have a magic gun that needs to be charged up before dealing massive damage to all enemies in the vicinity. You are vulnerable until the weapon is ready.

When I originally started this challenge, this was one of the first story ideas that came to mind. One man fighting against an army with nothing left to lose.

Take away #1: If you have cutscenes, provide a way to skip them.

  • The final boss of the game occurs after a gauntlet of other enemies and has a fairly lengthy cutscene ahead of it.
  • I did add in a way to skip cutscenes after the fact. Having them is fine, but most people play games for the gameplay and not an intricate story.
  • People do like cutscenes, the opening to the game got a lot of praise. Cutscenes are a powerful tool if used correctly.

Take away #2: Make sure concepts are well explained and logical.

  • One part of the game is you have to collect coins to charge up the gun. This didn’t make sense and left most people feeling very confused. It may have done better if I picked something other than a coin.
  • Adding clear UI elements can also help make the goal more clear.

Joining Forces

Concept: A puzzle platformer where you join and separate characters to gain new abilities.

The GMTK game jam is one of the largest of the year; last year it had over 5,700 games submitted. As a result I pulled together a large team for this.

So far in this challenge, I had avoided working with others as this was my challenge. It felt unfair for me to ask people to just go along with my ideas or help me implement an otherwise pointless feature to a project. While brainstorming ideas, I mentioned this challenge and my team was very interested in helping with it. We found a great way to compromise and this alleviated my fears about working with others for the remainder of the challenge.

This game ended up being what I consider to be my mechanically strongest game to date with lots of depth and puzzles. It ended up ranking 271 out of 5,751 overall. We think we could have placed higher but to get more eyes on the game we did something called “rate-for-rate”. ‘Rate for rate” is when you rate someone else’s game with the agreement that they would rate yours too. While this boosted numbers it dragged down the score as people would just open the game then rate it poorly. I had one guy tell me after the jam was over he saw it was a platformer and instantly gave it a 3/5 then moved on.

Take away: Rate for Rate is a double edged sword.

Second Son

Concept: Survive an endless wave of enemies, chaining several kills results in you getting more powerful, wait too long to kill and you’ll lose your powers.

I was finally able to get my pathfinding fully working, combining that with the weapons system in “Rogue Royale” plus a large open map resulted in an excellent horde mode. This game did extremely well ranking 14th out of 1,750 games. The only downside is that the game gets brutally hard at a certain point and even I haven’t been able to 100% the game. I didn’t lock anything away behind the 100% completion of the game this time as a result.

Take away: If a game is hard for the developer, it will be impossible for a casual player.

Death Percent 2

Concept: Speed runner platformer where you transform between a ghost and back into a character.

This is the first direct sequel I made during this challenge. I took some of the direct critiques of the original “Death Percent” and made it into a full game with more features, actual cutscenes and even enemies. However, the original point of the game was lost. The result was a game that wasn’t sure what it wanted to be.

At this point in the challenge, I realized I needed to start merging some of the story threads into a more coherent story. I did this through long cutscenes and learned that most people don’t like to read and can easily lose interest.

Take away: Adding more features doesn’t make a concept more fun.

  • Additional features should support the primary gameplay loop of a game.
  • Some of my choices ended up detracting from it, such as having to kill a number of enemies before opening a door. This slowed down the game and took away from the speed-running aspect greatly.

Journey to Hell

Concept: A platformer horror game inspired by Donte’s Inferno and Limbo.

My first attempt at making a horror game. Ran into some large technical difficulties with this one. I still enjoy the atmosphere and animations I created for this project. The game feels way too long and definitely overstays its welcome.

Take away #1: Keep it short and leave people wanting more.

  • The game has 13 levels (because scary number :skull:). Level 10 is essentially what the game is supposed to be building to but I think most players never made it that far.
  • Most people play game jam games for a limited time, use that time wisely to give them a full experience and wanting a full game.

Take away #2: When using new functionality, do a test build before using it in production.

  • I had previously used the spine-bone system and knew it was being removed from Defold. I thought if I didn’t update my Defold when the feature was removed I could still use it without issue. What actually happened was a series of confusing build errors that caused me to pull out of the planned competition and submit it to another smaller one where it didn’t fit in as well.
  • All I had to do was update Defold and use the new library extension to make the game work properly.

A Drunk Thief Returns

Concept: A comedy crime thriller where you drunkenly stumble around and steal a target item, take too long and the police will chase you down.

Some of you maybe already familiar with this game as it was my team’s entry to the Defold x Yandex Jam last year.

Clocking in at a little over a month and a half, this game was the longest game in terms of development time that I had released. I pulled together the same team as from Joining Forces and we decided to remaster a game from 2020 (A Drunk Thief) and give it more functionality. The team has talked a lot about turning this game into a full mobile game but have no concrete plans for that yet. This is currently my second most played game just behind the original Drunk Thief and is responsible for over 1/5 of all views this challenge has.

Take away: Clearly define why you are doing a jam.

  • Are you trying to make a prototype for a full game? Make a popular game? Win the competition?
  • Determining what you are doing can help you to experiment and influence specific design choices and also be more informative towards what you want out of the end product.

From the Ashes

Concept: Top down shooter where you swap between different characters to complete different puzzles.

As the last game in the challenge I had to tie up several loose ends and provide a satisfying end to the story at large. I feel like I largely accomplished that with this game. I took the lessons I learned over the year and made a game I enjoy playing. It tells a tight narrative and fills in most of the holes in the larger story.

That being said I was unable to concretely link the two main storylines of the game, but I always have the future for that. This game was meant to come out in December of 2021 but do to the holidays and general burn-out from making 11 games in a row it ended up coming out on the 365th day of the challenge.

Take away: Make sure to have fun.

  • Part of the reason this game was delayed was that I wasn’t having fun with it. I felt like I was forcing myself to close out a story in a very forced way and for a good part of development this was just hard to work on.
  • I made some fundamental design changes and eventually had a lot more fun with it. You can feel the difference in the levels I enjoyed making vs the ones I felt forced to include.

If I could do it again

If I was to re-do this challenge (which I am not planning on doing), I would do a few things very differently.

Firstly, I would establish more of a concrete story early.

  • In the beginning it was easy to create two wildly different games and just say they were in the same story without concretely tying them together. Should have done some more planning before I made games.
  • Even though the 12 months and 12 games part is finished, I still have other projects I would like to do to continue the story, partially because there are a few plotlines that don’t clearly intersect yet.

Secondly, I would have announced it earlier.

  • I didn’t clearly link the games together until game number 5. Didn’t publicly announce it until game 6.
  • I only got two shout-outs in YouTube videos for my work, both of which were before I began publicly saying I was doing this project. Two of my best chances at more publicity for the challenge were lost because I didn’t publicly commit to it soon enough.

Thirdly, I would spaced them out more.

  • I ended up releasing a few games close together then taking a break to work on side projects only to come back and do the same thing. This resulted in me being burned out and the last game “From the Ashes” coming out way later than expected.
  • I originally wanted the project done in 2021, hence why it’s called project 2021. However, I had to extend my schedule to 365 days just to finish it on time.

Going Forward

  • While the 12 games are finished and are far from perfect, I have no serious plans to revisit them or remastering them (as much as I would like to). With the exception of Drunk Thief Returns that is.
  • I do have other games in the works set in this universe (including one releasing very soon).
  • I once had the intent of merging all of these games into one massive ‘Grand Finale’. While I still like the idea, I have other projects I would like to do first. This is something I will revisit when the time is right.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! Hope you have a wonderful day!